A Choo-Choo Garden

A Choo-Choo Garden

Part of Ep. 904 The Winter Garden

Enjoy this Mukwonago backyard train garden nurtured by Kevin Ylvisaker and Jim Hunnicutt.  Miniature plants thriving next to the train tracks and ponds include:Coleus, Santolina, Labrador Violet , Phlox , Dianthus, 48 Dwarf Albertas, Boxwood and Edelweiss.

Premiere date: Dec 26, 2001

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
They say the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. Wait till you see some of the toys in this very unusual garden. We're in the backyard of Jim Hunnicutt and Kevin Ylvisaker in Mukwonago. And Kevin, this isn't what I expect when I come to visit somebody's garden. Are you into trains because you work with trains or something?

Kevin:
Not at all. My background is the professional floral industry and I'm actually a floral designer and I do a lot of traveling and teaching in the floral industry and have done a couple of inaugurals like President Bush and President Clinton, I've worked on those. I've judged the Tournament of Roses Parade. No, not trains at all.

Shelley:
Then how on earth do you go from floral design to choo-choo trains in the backyard?

Kevin:
Well, Tim and I went to visit the domes one time, we do that quite regularly, so we went to Mitchell Park to look at the domes and the Wisconsin Garden Railway Society had their trains running. And so we decided we'd ask a few questions and we kind of got hooked on those couple of questions and then obsessed after hooked, and as you can see now out of control.

Shelley:
Well this is a large chunk of your backyard, that's for sure, but why trains? What's the fascination with trains?

Kevin:
When you're little I think you know you've got the trains, you're playing with the little trains, you've got plastic people, plastic plants, so as an adult and you can rip up most of your yard, why not go ahead with real plants, bigger trains, ponds, trees, everything that we could possibly do we put into this one.

Shelley:
So in addition to playing with choo-choo trains you had to become an expert I would guess on miniature trees, shrubs, plants too.

Kevin:
Definitely we have. We actually have 314 miniature plants in here, we've got 48 trees, we've got five ponds running, and now 650 feet of track throughout all of those plants.

Shelley:
You know we're not all going to rip up our lawn and put in a train garden, but I would assume a lot of these plants are going to work real well like in containers or rock gardens or if I have a small patio. Let's talk about some of your favorites here.

Kevin:
They definitely will work well and like you said you don't need the train running, you can keep them in the rocks, in the corners. We've got a lot of annuals and perennials and the trees and one of the annuals that we found this year that we really like is called 'Black Dragon' Coleus. It's a tiny dwarf Coleus and it's a blackish-purple color. We put it in the Witches Gulch.

Shelley:
The Witches Gulch?

Kevin:
The Witches Gulch, which is our scary area of the garden, so that's over in that. We've got Santolina which we like. One of the herbs which is nice and fragrant which would work well in a container or rock garden. And we use that as a bush or a tree, you know, we have to think miniature on everything.

Shelley:
Now you've got some perennials here too, I thought I saw Edelweiss at one point.

Kevin:
You saw Edelweiss by the German beer garden, because you know a natural extension, you know, Edelweiss, beer, we've got that over in our Gaust Haus area, that again looks like a nice shrub growing, so we've got several of those in our alpine area. We've got Labrador Violet.

Shelley:
That's a pretty one.

Kevin:
It is. It's got nice little purple lavender flowers on it, it recedes freely so it can actually be put in an area of a rock garden where they want a lot of coverage quickly.

Shelley:
And it's a nice ground cover I assume for you with those beautiful purple leaves.

Kevin:
It is.

Shelley:
And then you've got, is it Phlox just laying over the tunnel tracks there?

Kevin:
Right, that is the Creeping Phlox, it was a small flap that we put in and it's taken over, run out of control which is what we wanted it to do. We put that in there, another ground cover, or the illusion of ground cover which we use is a lot of the Dianthus, like Cheddar, Pink, tiny rubies, and that has a very carpet effect.

Shelley:
So it becomes your lawn almost.

Kevin:
It becomes the lawn and then the flowers are just a bonus. And they're not too big that they're offensive or they don't make the train look like it's real tiny.

Shelley:
So, Godzilla's not running through here with these giant plants.

Kevin:
No, Godzilla would be neighboring dogs that might come crashing through! Or children that might come in to enjoy the garden are a little too large.

Shelley:
You mean the smaller children?

Kevin:
Gulliver, yeah!

Shelley:
Now what about trees. You've got some here that are cuties. Are they going to stay that size?

Kevin:
These are, well, they will because of what we've done to them. But these are the Dwarf Albertas and we have 48 of them here, and normally you wouldn't put 48 of them in, most people try to landscape them a little differently. In here, they have to look as if they're growing naturally, so we've got them as they are growing about 1 to 2 inches a year. In other forms we've taken and removed about the lower 6 inches of branches from them so they look as if they're a conifer in the wild. And to keep them really tiny we bonsai them and we keep them in their container and then we take them out yearly and re-trim the roots, re-trim the branches so they're very small.

Shelley:
And they stay that way then for you?

Kevin:
Yeah, they stay that way, and if you don't want to go through all the work there's actually a Dwarf Alberta that's called Jeans Dilly and it is very tiny, it's about 6 inches, it grows maybe half an inch a year, about 3 inches around.

Shelley:
And then I've also noticed Boxwood. Now these in a normal garden would be just miniature balls, but here it looks like you've got them as a full-size hedge.

Kevin:
They do, and that's the illusion that we wanted was full-size hedge. And actually we keep trimming those every year a little bit but they're slow enough growing that they work fine.

Shelley:
So we may not have the train but a lot of these plants would work well in almost anybody's garden.

Kevin:
I think everything in here would work well in the garden. Not that they couldn't have a train!

Shelley:
Thanks Kevin.

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